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Dear Dr. Vinny,
If a vintner has an unsold inventory of bottled wine, what are their options for disposal of the inventory?
—Jim S., Boston
None of my wine industry contacts would talk to me on the record about this topic, because who wants to admit that they have unsold wine? But I found out that it's pretty typical for a large winery to not label all of their wine until it's sold. These "shiners" (unlabeled wines, usually with unbranded corks) that are unsold often turn into private labels for restaurants, cruise ships, country clubs, wine shops and other outlets.
When a wine is labeled and unsold, it's trickier, because the winery must be careful to not degrade the brand, hurt its reputation, create pricing nightmares, or upset their distributors or wholesalers by competing with them through liquidation. As one insider told me, "Once a wine shows up on the 'bargain' rack or at 99-cent stores, the brand does not easily recover."
Other strategies are to find new states or foreign markets for distribution, or to supply wine clubs where consumers pay a flat monthly fee but the price of individual bottles is not disclosed. A few vintners very sensitive to brand integrity (and perhaps with cash to burn) may even go so far as to destroy the wine.
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